Maintaining a marriage requires intentionality. Just like other relationships, if your marriage doesn’t receive the necessary time and attention, it will deteriorate.
Couples tend to enter marriages with great expectations, bringing both their own histories of hurt and unmet needs. The unspoken expectation that your partner will finally love you the way you desire to be loved is often a setup for failure.
Apathy and contempt in a marriage are warning signs that your marriage needs your attention, and the number one predictor of divorce is conflict avoidance. So, if you and your partner avoid conflict and lack the skills of conflict resolution, your marriage may be in jeopardy.
Dr. John Gottman, marriage & family therapist and leading researcher on marriage, has conducted studies over the span of 40 years to determine the predictors of divorce. His studies showed that these six characteristics of communication predict the likelihood of divorce with 91% accuracy.
If the dynamics in your marriage fit these patterns, your chance of divorce is great:
1. Harsh start-ups.
Approaching a conversation or conflict with sarcasm, accusations, criticism or derogatory comments is dangerous for a marriage. Initiating a conversation harshly, will likely result in an acrimonious ending without resolution.
2. The four horsemen.
Gottman identifies these as contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling. His research shows a correlation between these characteristics of communication with your spouse drastically increase likelihood to divorce.
You and/or your spouse overwhelm each other with negativity that causes an emotional shut-down and detachment from your relationship. When you or your partner suddenly barrages the other with criticism or contempt, leaving the other feeling shell shocked, this results in disengagement and often, over time, leads to contempt.
4. Body language.
When one or both partners become overwhelmed and flooded, it results in physiological changes in the body. Increased heart rate, a secretion of adrenaline and an increase in blood pressure occur and these physiological responses preclude the ability to effectively resolve conflict. Flooding triggers a fight or flight response, resulting in disengagement and/or stonewalling by your partner.
5. Failed attempts to repair.
If conflict is not resolved or stonewalled by one partner, the likelihood of divorce increases. Conflict resolution is imperative in maintaining a healthy relationship. Stonewalling is the lack of willingness to engage in conversation and resolution around a conflict.
6. Bad memories.
Couples who get stuck viewing their relationship through a negative lens end up rewriting history that is often distorted. This extreme negative outlook impacts the historical, present and future perception of the relationship and contributes to the demise of a marriage.
Dick Schwartz, another leading Marriage and Family Therapist, and Founder of the Center For Self Leadership and Internal Family Systems, writes in his book You Are The One You’ve Been Waiting For that marriage is often a set-up for failure from the start because of the expectation that your mate will be your “redeemer” and fulfill all your unmet needs. This expectation will inevitably result in disappointment and discord.
No partner can fulfill and redeem another. One must first learn how to lead from the self so he/she is able to connect with his/her own natural ability for caring, compassion and courage. By identifying and working with your own hurting parts, learning their story and the emotions and beliefs they hold, you are able to connect with your self and become more “self-lead.”
The ability to be in “self leadership” will allow you to avoid the expectation of your partner to fulfill your unmet needs and therefore remove the constant let down you experience when your partner doesn’t. In turn, this will set the stage for resolving conflict in such a way that each partner feels heard and understood.